Former NHL head coach Dan Bylsma (right) helped out Kelowna Rockets head coach and former teammate Dan Lambert at the WHL team practises this week.

Ex-teammates reconnect in coaching world

Former Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma visits Kelowna Rockets and head coach Dan Lambert

These two Dans go way back.

Dan Lambert and Dan Bylsma first met in 1993 at the training camp of the American Hockey League’s Moncton Hawks.

More than two decades later, Lambert and Bylsma were back on the ice together at Prospera Place.

Bylsma, the former head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, was in town this week to help Lambert conduct three practises with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets.

“It was a pretty nice gesture on Dan’s part to come and spend time with our team,” said Lambert, the Rockets’ first-year head coach. “He brought a lot of knowledge, details and habits, those sorts of things. Dan showed our players energy and enthusiasm…he’s an energetic guy. It’s been great for our team to have him here.”

Lambert and Bylsma also played parts of three seasons together in the mid-to-late 1990s with the International Hockey League’s Long Beach Ice Dogs.

Based on what he saw back then, Bylsma isn’t the least bit surprised that Lambert is having success as a major junior head coach.

“Dan (Lambert) was a seasoned veteran, a guy on the back end and it was a very good team,” said Bylsma. “I want to say he ran the team, he was a leader.

“I remember fondly that team and playing together,” added Bylsma. “At the time we were both players, I’m not surprised that down the road we are both in coaching.”

During the 10 seasons Lambert played in Europe, he and Bylsma were more or less out of touch.

It was after Lambert signed on as an assistant coach with the Rockets that the two had a chance to reconnect.

“When Ryan (Huska) and I went to coach’s conferences, (Dan and I) used to run into each other there,” Lambert. “We reconnected and have stayed in contact ever since. He said when he’s not working he’d be happy to come see us. It was nice of him to do that, and it’s worked out very well.

Lambert said based on the way Bylsma played the game and respected his teammates, it’s no surprise that the two have been able to find common ground in the coaching world.

“I’ve always respected Dan for the teammate he was, he’s the type of person you go to war with,” Lambert added. “I respected the way he played and approached the game, and I think the feeling is mutual.”

From Bylsma’s perspective, the relationship between the two men has been a benefit to both coaches.

“We’ve spent a lot of time conversing and talking about the game and coaching over the last three years,” said Bylsma, who coached the Penguins for six seasons, including winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.

“I think at times Dan has called me as a guy that has coached a little longer than him and had different experiences. But at the same time I have talked to Dan and gotten his experiences and learned from him as a coach as well.”